Everybody ‘wang chung’: Build and promote your company culture to make ‘cents’

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Fifteen years ago, Assurance was just another insurance broker in a cutthroat industry. As the business stagnated, an employee survey revealed undercurrents of unhappiness.

What really got their goat, it turned out, was those $1.25 sodas in the lunch room, says Chief Marketing Officer Steve Handmaker. Why, the grumbling went, was the company sticking it to the employees on something so petty?

In the video “Build and promote your company culture to make ‘cents,’” he tells how cheaper soft drinks, a shift in corporate culture, and the “worst ever” 1980s rock song helped boost the bottom line.

Find out how Assurance improved the bottom line (he has figures) by investing in and building its brand around its employees.

Learn how to:

  • Create a happy workplace that employees are proud of
  • Overhaul internal communication programs to create a culture of appreciation
  • Give each employee rock-star status. And what do rock stars want? Publicity and recognition
  • Initiate and promote wellness programs that decrease absenteeism, improve productivity and reduce health care costs
  • Slash recruitment costs to next to nothing—since the best of the best will knock down the door to work at your company

Pointy-haired bosses will be alarmed to learn that happiness does matter.  A transformed culture brought the 320-person company a spike in revenue to $59.5 million in 2012 from $7.7 million in 1998, Handmaker says.

It all began with a turnover in leadership in the late 1990s, at a time when employee morale was in the pits. Surveys showed that those pricey sodas were a symbol and a cause of the general misery.

The company vowed to put employees front and center and make them the rock stars. When the bigwigs cut the soda price to 25 cents, the outpouring of thanks was incredible.

The same survey that revealed the soda sentiments led to the company’s new leadership to seek a different way of doing business. The chief executive suggested the motto, “Let’s get back to fun,” but (fortunately) he was talked out of it.

Instead, Handmaker says, “We picked literally the worst song that we could find from the 80s, and said this is the song that is going to be our company mantra.”

They chose “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung, which gifted the English language with these memorable phrases:

Ev'rybody have fun tonight
Ev'rybody Wang Chung tonight.

The song was played everywhere to remind staff in a stodgy industry to lighten up. It was just silly enough that people appreciated the humor. And guess what? “It truly became part of the company culture vernacular,” Handmaker says. Things that are cool are “very wang chung.” Bad ideas are dismissed as “un-wang chung.”

“We knew we might be onto something when Business Insurance magazine, which is our industry’s major go-to publication, did a story on us on their back page and actually put a picture of the ‘80s band Wang Chung up there,” Handmaker says.

November 2013

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Presenter bio: 

Steve Handmaker is Assurance's chief marketing officer. He is on Assurance's executive management team and directs the company's marketing, communications and branding. The company's top creative professional, he counsels on strategic marketing and communication initiatives. In addition, Steven has executive oversight and financial responsibility for Assurance's Specialty Commercial and Private Insurance Management operations.